Six youngsters have holiday experience of a lifetime, guest conducting the Grand Rapids Symphony Holiday Pops

For many years, Grand Rapids Symphony’s Holiday Pops have been a family tradition for West Michigander to celebrate the season in song.

More than 10,000 guests were in DeVos Performance Hall last week for six performances of the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops featuring the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus and Youth Chorus and guest vocalist Capathia Jenkins.

But the 2019 Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops were extra special for six students who had an opportunity to join Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt and the Grand Rapids Pops on stage.

One youngster was selected at each concert to come up on stage and conduct the Grand Rapids Symphony in Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” beginning with Aidan Vermeulen, age 11, at the opening concert on Thursday, Dec. 5.

“We were surprised and delighted when Aidan was chosen, and what an amazing experience it was,” said Aidan’s father, Jason Vermeulen.

Kids guest conduct Grand Rapids Symphony's Holiday Pops   

It was a very special experience for all of the guests who volunteered to participate and were chosen at random in a drawing held at each of the afternoon and evening Holiday Pops concerts continuing through Sunday, Dec. 8.

But it was extra special for Aidan because his mother Anne Vermeulen, an alto in the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, had the best seat in the house to see Aidan’s conducting debut.

At each concert, the drawing was held after the concert was underway, so it came as a complete surprise to Anne, who already was seated on stage with the Symphony Chorus when her son’s name was announced.

“I could barely contain myself,” she said afterward. “We’re supposed to be somewhat incognito on stage since we’re so visible, but I couldn’t help being excited.”

Following an introduction by Bob Bernhardt and a quick lesson in baton technique, each student was off to the races with “Sleigh Ride.”

“While he was conducting, he would catch my eye and smile,” Anne Vermeulen recalled.

The Vermeulens said they’re so grateful for the experience given to their son.

“Music is something Anne and I both value, and we hope to pass that love of music on to our boys,” Jason said.

The other special guest conductors were:

  • Maddie Decker, age 11, daughter of Jason and Tina Freese Decker, at the morning concert on Friday, Dec. 6.

  • Nadia Alderman, age 10, daughter of Eric and Amy Alderman, at the evening concert on Friday, Dec. 6.

  • Luke Barrett, age 14, son of Michael Barrett, at the afternoon concert on Saturday, Dec. 7

  • Ellie Blink, age 8, daughter of Emily Blink, at the evening concert on Saturday, Dec. 7

  • Chandler Baillie, age 15, daughter of Julia Baillie, at the afternoon concert on Sunday, Dec. 8

Each student got a peak behind the scenes at the Grand Rapids Symphony’s concert and was given a souvenir baton to take home.

“Bob Bernhardt as so supportive and encouraging to him,” Anne Vermeulen said. “Capathia Jenkins, too, was giving him little pointers and encouragement backstage before he went on, which meant a lot to us.”

A 6th grade student at Baldwin Street Middle School in Hudsonville, Aidan began studying cello this fall.

“He has really come alive with it, practicing daily as one should,” Jason Vermeulen said. “His playing cello has led to shared joy as we’ve gotten to watch and encourage him.”

“It was an unforgettable experience for our family,” Jason said.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at 12:00 PM
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